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‘Angel’ is rewarded after fatal crash leaves 4 kids without a caretaker

Some mornings, Lucille McKnight runs her fingers over the brown shaggy carpet beneath her body, the pain in her back and chest slowly waking her up. Beside her, the two toddlers sleep nestled between a stuffed unicorn and tiger, pillows and some blankets — the closest thing they’ve had to a bed in months.

“How did I get here?” she wonders.

Christine Modica, 3, holds up a stuffed animal in the bedroom she shares with her great-aunt, L ...
Christine Modica, 3, holds up a stuffed animal in the bedroom she shares with her great-aunt, Lucille McKnight, at their home in Las Vegas on Wednesday, Dec. 11, 2019. The family is slated to receive a full set of furniture for the home as part of Walker Furniture's "Home for the Holidays" giveaway. McKnight has been looking after Christine and her three siblings since July, when their grandmother and caretaker died in a car crash. (Chase Stevens/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @csstevensphoto

In July, the 50-year-old woman with mounting health problems took in her niece’s four young children, after their grandmother and sole caretaker, Rose Mary Modica, died in a car crash.

Out celebrating their Nana Rose’s birthday, the kids, between ages 2 and 10 at the time, were in the car. All four were hospitalized with injuries ranging from a collapsed lung and a head gash to broken arms and spinal injuries. The most severely injured underwent several surgeries and was in a physical rehabilitation center until mid-November.

Within hours of the July 9 crash, McKnight was at the children’s bedsides. By then, the Modica siblings — Christine, Noel, Lennie and Herman — had been in the foster care system for three years, their mother homeless and addicted to drugs and their father incarcerated on a pending domestic battery case.

With nowhere else to go after their grandmother’s death, McKnight agreed to take custody of the kids despite already having three teenagers at home, adopted in 2013 from another niece.

“Even though everything was telling me not to, I had to do it,” she said this week during an interview at her southwest Las Vegas home. “Nobody’s stepping up, you know, nobody’s offering to help, so I just gotta do what I gotta do.”

Inspired by her selflessness, her partner, Kyle Turpin, nominated McKnight last month for Walker Furniture’s 26th annual “Home for the Holidays” furniture giveaway.

“She has gone through so much,” Turpin told the Las Vegas Review-Journal this week. “It’s amazing to me that she would go to sleep on the floor, wake up the next morning and continue forward.”

In his nomination letter, Turpin wrote, in part: “I truly believe that Lucy’s humanitarian efforts should be rewarded because, without her, these children would be thrown into the foster care system and separated from one another for God knows how long. Lucy McKnight has been an angel for these kids in every way.”

Enclosed in the letter, the 65-year-old Las Vegas resident included a copy of a Review-Journal story published in mid-July documenting the children’s recovery and McKnight’s decision to take in the children.

On Tuesday morning, McKnight got a call from Walker Furniture. She was selected as one of 35 local families to receive furnishings for her entire home.

The furniture will be delivered Friday morning — the first of the 35 deliveries this year, according to Jackie Brett, a Walker Furniture spokeswoman.

“Your coverage along with the letter helped spell out McKnight’s story,” Brett said Thursday in an email to the Review-Journal.

Inspired by Lucille McKnight's selflessness, her partner, Kyle Turpin, sent a nomination letter ...
Inspired by Lucille McKnight's selflessness, her partner, Kyle Turpin, sent a nomination letter to Walker Furniture's "Home for the Holidays" giveaway. McKnight took in her niece's four young children in July, after their grandmother and caretaker died in a car crash. (Walker Furniture)

Ongoing investigation

McKnight said Walker Furniture was expected to deliver a living room set, end tables, a dining table with four chairs and a bench, lamps, beds and dressers.

“This is my room right here,” McKnight said Wednesday, opening a white bedroom door to reveal an empty room, save a pile of neatly folded blankets, a few pillows and some stuffed animals.

Christine Modica, now 3, ran to the toys.

“My unicorn, my unicorn,” she yelled. In the crash, Christine suffered a collapsed left lung and a broken right arm.

Christine was out of her cast as of Wednesday but was still dealing with the emotional aftermath of the crash. Each therapy session, according to McKnight, the girl’s therapist reminds Christine that her grandmother has died.

“Nana Rose break her leg,” Christine said Wednesday when asked about her grandmother. “She in hospital.”

McKnight says the siblings are dealing with the loss of their grandmother differently. Herman, 11, “has completely shut down.”

“He won’t even talk about it,” McKnight said.

On the day of the crash, the children were out with the grandmother celebrating her 56th birthday.

It was just after 10 a.m. when they piled into her Toyota Camry, headed to the store, when all of the sudden, according to Herman, the car picked up speed on Washington Avenue, near Decatur Boulevard, as they entered a marked construction zone. Witnesses have said their grandmother was speeding, honking and yelling as if she couldn’t stop.

The sedan sped over an open trench in the construction site, colliding into a work truck. Spinning out from the trench, the car then slammed into a nearby dirt berm and momentarily became airborne before hitting a skid-steer loader.

Two recalls for 2007 to 2010 model Camrys were announced in 2009 and 2010, respectively, for floor mats and accelerator pedals. Both were announced after reports of unintended acceleration.

The day after the wreck, a Las Vegas police spokesman said fatal traffic investigators would use any retrievable car data to determine whether a malfunction was a contributing factor. As of Thursday, the official cause of the crash still had not been determined.

‘I’m not going to complain’

At the time of the crash, McKnight thought she’d only have the children until their mother, Thylicia, got back on her feet. A few days after the wreck, their mother had checked herself into a yearlong drug and alcohol rehabilitation program.

But my mid-October, according to McKnight, her niece had left the program and was on the verge of losing her parental rights.

McKnight, who put her life on hold to take care of the four siblings, is now faced with the decision to adopt them.

“Knowing the person that I am, I’ll probably adopt them. But when I tell you I’m terrified —” McKnight said, trailing off. “I’m 50. It wouldn’t be as scary if I was younger. I have health problems, and right now I got a muscle strain in my chest from picking them up. I just have to be more careful.”

Christine now calls McKnight “Mom.”

Shortly before the crash, McKnight had launched her own screen-printing and design company, Katalyst Tees. But now, raising the kids — who all have their share of behavioral problems due to fetal alcohol syndrome — is her full-time job: daily therapy appointments, doctor visits, school and homework.

In addition to those daily responsibilities, McKnight said she is working hard to provide them, for the first time in their lives, a stable home environment that she hopes will help reverse their behavioral issues.

“I’ve got a lot of complaints, but I’m not going to complain,” McKnight told the Review-Journal this week ahead of the delivery, “because it could be worse. I could be out in the projects, but even though we’re sleeping on the floor, we’re in a nice house and the kids are in a nice school and in a nice neighborhood.”

Contact Rio Lacanlale at rlacanlale@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0381. Follow @riolacanlale on Twitter.

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